My pathetic fire starting ability

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My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by uneekwahn » Mon Jun 07, 2010 3:49 am

So, we decided to take off for a night's camping and for the first time in a long time, we went somewhere we could light a fire! (insert dramatic music here)

It's not very often I get to light a fire, and I came prepared with a container full of vaseline coated cotton wool balls.

Ripped open a couple of balls, placed on the ground, got some nice dry blackboy (grass tree) grass and placed it over the cotton wool balls to act as tinder, then chopped some jarrah into small pieces to act as kindling and lit it. The blackboy grass took up pretty quickly and lit the kindling well (or so I thought!). Placed some larger bits of jarrah on to the now roaring mini-fire and then for the next hour had to continually feed it either more cotton wool balls or dry blackboy grass. Not my idea of lighting a fire and enjoying myself with a beer or 3.

Come this morning, I tried again, thinking I'd have learnt from my mistakes. Alas, I had not and spent another hour stoking the fire with dry blackboy grass to ensure that it took. It finally did, but not as well as the fire the night before.

Where did I go wrong? Should I quit the ZS forums and hang my head in shame?

Help me become a better fire lighter and therefore become a better man so that I can once again hold my head high in front of my wife instead of lowering it in shame because I appear to lack the skills of a proper hunter-gatherer.

Cheers,

Jason.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Veritas » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:01 am

If I had to guess, I would say you had too much big and small stuff, and not enough mid-width stuff. Let me clarify by stating how I light a fire with something like cotton balls:

1) Cotton balls go in the pile first, and maybe some grass/bark strips
2) Then I put some sticks about the size of a pencil on top followed by:
3) Pieces about the size of my thumb
4) Pieces about the size of my wrist
5) Bigger pieces about two wrist sizes
6) Logs

I usually use the teepee method, but have also used the log cabin method (or whatever it's called) with some success.

In the past, when I had problems starting a fire, it was because I skipped the thumb and/or wrist size pieces. The littler stuff would get going pretty well and look impressive at first, but it wouldn't be enough to light the bigger stuff and I would have to keep feeding it like you described. I find it takes me about ten/fifteen minutes to properly prepare the fire, then about two seconds to set it all ablaze. Then I can just walk away (well, not literally, you know what I mean...)

This really is not very effective without pictures, sorry.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Gun_Nut_2k1 » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:11 am

You forgot the gasoline. yeha.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by sql_yoda » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:19 am

Veritas wrote:If I had to guess, I would say you had too much big and small stuff, and not enough mid-width stuff.
Seconded - to start a fire you need a lot of small things to burn hot and long enough to ignite the big things. If you went straight from 'blackboy grass' to jarrah it looks like you might have skipped a few intermediate sized kindling pieces (based on google images search). Next time take a small hatchet with you and cut your log (jarrah) wood into sticks of varying thickness. Stack it ir burn it from smallest to largest thickness and your fire will make visible leaps through the hot, sustained combustion, levels of a campfire.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by uneekwahn » Mon Jun 07, 2010 4:39 am

I did have some fairly small pieces (at least I thought they were small enough) on top of the dry grass / cotton wool balls and they did ignite and were going fairly well, but as you've said, not well enough.

I'm hoping to head out to this place again in the next couple of weeks and will make sure I follow the 6 Ps in future (prior planning prevents piss poor performance!) and hopefully get a roaring fire going.

I was following the teepee / pyramid method too, and haven't really had this much problem lighting a fire. I did notice that the wood I had purchased (2 x 18kg bags of jarrah - didn't know what the wood situation would be like where we were going and don't like burning native animal's homes!) did seem a little cool / damp to the touch, so, not that I'm blaming the equipment, but I do wonder if the wood wasn't dry enough?

Cheers,

Jason.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by SksScout » Mon Jun 07, 2010 6:02 am

Assuming your construction was spot on, it sounds like your jarrah may have been too wet/green/big. Next time try batoning/splitting a few pieces into halves or thirds.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Woods Walker » Tue Jun 08, 2010 12:29 am

There is no shame in failure, only in not learning from it. Somehow I feel that you jumped the gun on feeding your fire larger wood. I also feel that you didn’t have enough kindling and intermediate sized sticks. But it’s hard to tell without actually being there. Was your fuel damp or green? Time spent in preparation is time well spent.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Mister Dark » Tue Jun 08, 2010 12:56 am

I would have to vote for green/damp wood. I have been out hiking in wet areas, and had to baton pretty much everything to get down to dry stuff. Another trick I learned is to use damp wood as a reflector - I would build a 3 sided wall of large, damp logs around my firepit. By the time I needed them, they were usually warmed up and a little less wet. Didnt keep me from having to strip them a little to get em going quickly, but it seemed to help.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by gunn parker » Tue Jun 08, 2010 1:51 am

Where did you go?
I have used the very dry grass tree fronds before but prefer very dry gum tree leaves. These go up very quickly and with a big flame. I get a bunch of those then layer on some small twigs and a couple of bigger ones.

cheers

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by JoeTosco » Tue Jun 08, 2010 10:52 am

+1 vote for the lack of intermediate sized material.

Here in Brazil I have started fires several times during light rain using only materials from the spot with good results, because I always gather enough small and medium material. To be honest, I get more than I expect to use.

If you can get small material that is dry, you can start the fire, and the medium materials even wet can go along, and by the time these ends, the bigger material is dry enough and burning.

Try again using more material, I guess you will have better results.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by ninja-elbow » Tue Jun 08, 2010 11:15 am

My vote is also jumping the gun with wet/damp wood and size.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we only have about 1-2 month window of "dry" ... and this year probably less as it has rained more than normal. The key for me is to just spend the time hacking down logs into various pieces for kindling. Twigs, pencil, pinky, thumb .... keep those sizes coming and have some more tinder handy too. Splitting helps you get to the dry parts which will catch and make the wet parts less of an issue.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Red_Snow » Tue Jun 08, 2010 1:08 pm

A small suggestion that might not help much, but if you build the campfire with the large wet pieces of fuel in a log cabin pattern around a small tepee pattern of dry fuel, as the tepee burns it will dry out the larger wood. You can keep adding larger and larger fuel to the tepee until you have the inner edges of your log cabin lit. This is the method we used in the winters with frozen logs, the tepee fire would thaw out the larger logs and then light them.

In my experience it isn't just about dry fuel but also about how you construct the fire before even lighting it.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by uneekwahn » Tue Jun 08, 2010 5:57 pm

Thanks everyone for the replies, will hopefully get out there again this weekend and make sure that I have many small size pieces ranging from kindling to wrist thickness (and everything in between) and then go from there. I may even take a video so you can all laugh at me if it takes another hour ;)
gunn parker wrote:Where did you go?
I have used the very dry grass tree fronds before but prefer very dry gum tree leaves. These go up very quickly and with a big flame. I get a bunch of those then layer on some small twigs and a couple of bigger ones.

cheers
gunn parker, we went to Julimar State Forest near Toodyay. It was very nice :)

Here's some shots of the camp site.

Image

Image

Cheers,

Jason.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by DrunkWookiee » Tue Jun 08, 2010 9:37 pm

Was there a lot of smoke or steam coming off it? If so, it was wet wood. If not, it was insufficient intermediate wood.

Try feather sticks. Get pieces about thumb-size and feather it before you add it. By feathering, you create lots of smaller pieces to catch and at the same time expose dryer inner wood.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Veritas » Tue Jun 08, 2010 11:02 pm

DrunkWookiee wrote:Try feather sticks. Get pieces about thumb-size and feather it before you add it. By feathering, you create lots of smaller pieces to catch and at the same time expose dryer inner wood.
Good tip, somehow I always forget about this...
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by the_alias » Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:27 pm

I got a chance to do some practice fire building and maybe these pictures are useful, maybe not:

Image
became
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I've also got a video of lighting it and the interim steps, which including adding more tinder and wood....admittedly I didn't have enough stuff next to me to be calm so I ran about till it was good! Will try to upload that later.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by lonewolf15002000 » Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:37 pm

the_alias wrote:admittedly I didn't have enough stuff next to me to be calm so I ran about till it was good!
I've ran into this a couple of times and there is a easy solution. When you feel you have enough wood in the immediate area of where your going to light your fire go and get more at least 3-4 times again. That way you know for sure it has enough fuel for you to find that one log that will last all night long.

To the OP: You learn more from failures than you do from a single success.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by the_alias » Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:43 pm

I've ran into this a couple of times and there is a easy solution. When you feel you have enough wood in the immediate area of where your going to light your fire go and get more at least 3-4 times again. That way you know for sure it has enough fuel for you to find that one log that will last all night long.
Yeah so true man, I was just feeling lazy haha but it is a good rule of thumb :D (I'd say 4-5 times in winter just to be super safe!)
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by DrunkWookiee » Tue Jul 27, 2010 8:45 pm

the_alias wrote:
I've ran into this a couple of times and there is a easy solution. When you feel you have enough wood in the immediate area of where your going to light your fire go and get more at least 3-4 times again. That way you know for sure it has enough fuel for you to find that one log that will last all night long.
Yeah so true man, I was just feeling lazy haha but it is a good rule of thumb :D (I'd say 4-5 times in winter just to be super safe!)
In the winter, make a log reflector or better yet, 2 of them at about a 120 degree angle to each other. Makes the fire more efficient and dries out the logs in the reflector so they can serve as an emergency wood reserve. Find yourself running out, pull a few logs off the reflectors, then reload the reflectors.
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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Thorake » Fri Aug 06, 2010 5:58 am

I always just light the cotton ball first.
Let it burn for a few seconds.
Then I add small twigs.
Like 1/3 the thickness of the pencil.
Slowly I move up to pencil to twice pencil.
Etc.
I end it on wrist size pieces of wood.
I never go bigger then wrist size in the end (I kinda do have a big wrist)
Easier to find wrist size pieces.
They can dry faster if need be.
I throw one more on and I got better light and heat then I would from a log.

Watch this video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYvvC6pkpL0" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

He starts with just a cotton ball and gets a nice fire going after he builds up.

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Re: My pathetic fire starting ability

Post by Spartan299 » Fri Aug 06, 2010 7:05 pm

Sounds like ya got plenty of advice from the group. All I can say is that you tried and that is good! Now ya just gotta keep at it until ya get it right. Experimentation is the key. Book and the internet can help, but you really need hands on instruction.

Personally, I still feel that there is too much emphasis placed on the use of modern fire starting supplies and not enough work concentrating on the basis primative skills. Friction methods like fire plows and bow drills have worked for our ancestors (don't think they had access to vaseline and cotton balls :lol: ). Flint and steel, compression ignitors, and magnesium sets are also excellent methods.

Building a fire is just that. It is not difficult once you get the idea and if only I was closer, I wouldn't need more than a couple of hours to run you through the most common methods and get you on your way. God knows, there has got to be someone near you with the requisite skills to help you.
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